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Alumni Gazette

Illig: A 2,000-mile stroll


The longest continuously marked foot path in the world, the Appalachian Trail stretches from Springer Mountain in Amicalola State Park, Georgia, to Mt. Katahdin in Maine's Baxter State Park. Roughly 2,000 people set out to complete the whole route--or "through-hike"--each year. Only about 200 make it.

One of them is John Illig '86.

"I'm not," Illig insists, "one of those people who know from the time they turn 10 that they want to hike the Appalachian Trail."

But something made him do it anyway. Maybe it was the rush of the athletic challenge. (Illig is a lifelong athlete and the tennis and squash coach at Bates College in Lewiston, Maine.) Or perhaps it was a quest to see if he'd really miss the remote control or the car. It may have been the power of suggestion: The trail is as much a part of Down East culture as lobsters and scrubby pines. Whatever the reason, Illig hiked the 2,147-mile wooded trail through 14 states in 137 days ("a little on the fast side") and then wrote a book about it.

Along the way, he contracted Lyme disease and spent time in a New Hampshire hospital recuperating. He learned to do without, lightening his backpack, by trail's end, from 75 to 30 pounds. Needs and wants became more clearly defined. (He watched hikers, taking a break in town from the rugged woods, scramble for spilled M&Ms in the dirt.)

Everyone on the trail has a nickname, Illig reports. He hiked the entire trail in running shoes and picked up the trail name Sneakers. The trail is a linear community; most hikers start out alone but quickly find hiking buddies. Illig met hundreds of people, each with his or her own story.

Illig's summers-off schedule gave him the chance to devote a chunk of time to the trail pursuit--a luxury, he admits, that most working adults don't have. In fact, many of his compadres on the trail were college students, new graduates, and retirees with time to hike.

"In any given day, I would bump into students, people from the military, or corporate types. You're hiking half the day with a Dead Head and the other half with a retired military guy."

One woman he met had broken her arm on the hike. She had it set in a town along the way and kept going. She carried her X-rays in her pack, and in each new town along the trail she'd have her arm checked by the local doctor.

Old-fashioned trail hospitality has been happening for years. Work on the trail began in 1922 and was completed in the late 1930s. Myron Avery, a Bowdoin College graduate, was the first person to hike the entire AT, though he did it in sections. The first through-hike took place 50 years ago. Earl Shaffer, at age 28, through-hiked the AT in four months and a day. During the 1950s, Grandma Gatewood, a 5'2" mother of 11 and one of the great trail personalities, became the first woman to hike the whole span (she did it alone--in sneakers!). She also was the first hiker, male or female, to do it more than once.

The people Illig met were legends themselves. He shared soup, thoughts, and directions with people named Katydid, Easy Stryder, Stone, Hydro, and Low Rider. With a cast of characters not unlike Northern Exposure, a book was sure to follow.

Trail Ways, Path Wise: An Appalachian Trail Through-Hike took Illig three years to write. (As an undergrad English major, inspired, he says, by Professor Emeritus Tom Gavin, he won creative writing awards.) He worked from notes he kept in his trip journal, which traced the miles he logged each day, the places he stayed, the people he met.

"I can recall a huge number of things just from looking at those notes. Writing it just helped me relive it, so I got it out of my system," he says. "It's something I knew I would do. I knew when I was hiking that I would write about it."

An excerpt, from the book's conclusion:

"'I don't think you'll be able to make it up there wearing those,' a man volunteered sidling over, pointing down at my running shoes.

"Holy Prophecy, Batman--here it had come to pass exactly as Hydro had predicted. Here on my last day, here was someone telling me that I'd never make it!"

Harpham: Giving a personal voice to the trauma of disease


Wendy Schlessel Harpham '80M (MD) says she had no idea she could write. She was always science- and math-oriented. Yet Harpham's first venture into writing was accepted two days after she sent the manuscript to a publisher.

The book, Diagnosis Cancer: Your Guide Through the First Few Months, gave a unique personal voice to the physical and emotional trauma of the disease. Her perspective of healer turned patient became a highly praised guide both for her medical colleagues and for other patients.

In the eight years since she was first diagnosed with lymphoma, and coped with middle-of-the-night pain and fear by putting pen to paper, Harpham has crossed into a new career as writer and speaker. Over a series of remissions and recurrences she has promoted "healthy survivorship" in numerous articles, subsequent books, and local and national lectures and broadcast appearances throughout North America. In September, she was honored with the Natalie Davis Spingarn Writer's Award from the National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship.

Though her disease forced her to close her solo practice of internal medicine, Harpham finds satisfaction in the fact that she's still part of the "healing circle," reaching more people through her words than she ever could have through her office in Dallas.

"My books allow patients to be better informed about treatments, about making wise decisions, and fostering realistic cooperative relationships with their doctors," she explains. At the same time, by helping doctors better understand the experience of serious illness, her books help physicians deal with the medical and personal concerns of survivorship that are often overlooked in medical schools or oncology conferences.

Harpham's second book, After Cancer: A Guide to Your New Life, was written to fill the void of information on life after treatment. She looked at common medical issues such as lingering pain and fatigue or lack of appetite, and emotional concerns like fear of recurrence. The book took three years to complete. During that time Harpham went through her own first recurrence, an experience that "was a benefit for the book, but not so much fun for me."

At the same time she started preparing a children's book that would help youngsters understand a parent's illness. When Harpham was first diagnosed, her husband, Ted, a professor of political economy at the University of Texas, told their three children--then barely 2, 4, and 6 years old--that their mother was very sick with a disease called cancer, would be sick for a long time, and would be getting powerful medicine to get better.

"The greatest gift one can give to children is not protection from stress, change, or loss, but the confidence and tools to cope with and grow with all that life offers, both the good and the bad," Harpham says. Children also need reassurance that they will be cared for no matter what.

That philosophy produced Becky and the Worry Cup, while what originally had been conceived of as a short postscript to parents turned into a companion volume, When a Parent Has Cancer: A Guide to Caring for Your Children, which includes the children's book in the back flap.

Harpham is at work on her fourth guide, Happiness in a Storm: Embracing Life With Illness or Injury--something she has done to the fullest. Though she confesses that reduced stamina forces her to pace her daily activities and take a long nap every afternoon, Harpham maintains a busy schedule of writing, patient advocacy, and public speaking. Her articles have appeared in the Journal of Psychosocial Oncology, Dallas Medical Journal, Medical Economics, Coping, and newsletters of various cancer organizations. She is a consumer advocate on the National Cancer Institute support-grant review committee, advises the Children's Task Force of the American Cancer Society, and is on the board of the Cure for Lymphoma Foundation. She also delivers lectures on many aspects of survivorship to professional and general audiences.

What keeps Harpham going, despite repeating cycles of recurrence and treatment? She looks at the support of her husband, the time spent with her children, the new opportunities that have opened up. "I love my life and I love learning," she says. "I wouldn't have chosen this, but here I am, and I'm grateful to God for the opportunity to write and begin to give back for all that I have received."



It's not your everyday spineless creature from the sea that is able to move cinder blocks.

Then again, an octopus is not your average mollusk.

"Their arms are pure muscle," says biologist John Cigliano '85, a professor at Bradford College. "That's one of the first things you notice when you pick one up. Not only that, but they can squeeze through about any size hole. An octopus a foot long can get through a hole the size of a quarter."

That would explain the Great Octopus Escape of '85. At the time, Cigliano was an undergrad biology/geology major doing independent research in St. Croix. It seems he had stashed an octopus in a tank of water, covered it with a board weighted down with several hefty cinder blocks, and turned in for the night. The next morning, he found that the octopus had moved blocks and board just enough to squeeze out and had taken off.

Something about the eight-legged creature has fascinated Cigliano since he was a kid.

"Probably the first thing that interested me was their incredible ability to camouflage," he says. Lacking the protective shell of its competitors, the octopus has survived by developing the ability to switch colors in an instant. The texture of its skin morphs for the same reason, from mirroring the smooth surface of water-worn rock to the dimpled hills and valleys of sandstone.

As Cigliano learned more about the species, he like other scientists became captivated by their intelligence and personality.

"They have on more than one occasion outsmarted me in an experiment," he admits.

In a classic demonstration, scientists put a crab ("their absolute favorite food") in a sealed mayonnaise jar and deposit it in the octopus tank. The animals eventually figure out how to unscrew the lid, providing evidence of their problem-solving ability. Furthermore, recent studies have shown octopuses can learn by observing, a skill once thought to be found only in vertebrate animals.

His most recent work focuses on two aspects of the creature's daily life. One concerns the ecology of their communities--specifically, what allows several octopus species to live together in the same area. Basic ecological theory says that if closely related species with similar lifestyles share the same stamping grounds, one of them will eventually beat out the others in competition for food and habitat. Octopuses, however, don't seem to compete.

Another area he's studying may explain why: Scientists have long held that octopuses are nocturnal, but Cigliano is finding that is not always the case.

He suspects that octopuses in close quarters don't compete with each other at least in part because they are out at different times of the day. He also thinks that since reefs are made up of many microhabitats, the animals may be using different parts of the reef and so don't bump into each other during their daily rounds.

While some scientists have studied these possibilities, and Cigliano himself has pursued them in the lab, he's eager to explore them further in the field. This time at least he'll probably know how to keep them from getting away from him.

Johnson: "Now I have to work harder."


At age 6, not many of us know what we'll be doing 20 years into the future. But James Johnson '70M (MD) did. From that tender age, Johnson knew he wanted to be a medical doctor.

"I never changed my mind," he says. "I was taught that anything worth having is worth working for. And anything that I should aspire to do, I should do my best at."

That same sensibility and determination guided Johnson's steady climb up the ranks in the U.S. Navy. He began his military career in the Navy's "Ensign 1915" program in 1966. And he's now in the history books as the first active-duty African-American rear admiral in the 127-year span of the Medical Corps.

"I'm pleased and delighted to be selected. But now I have an obligation to work even harder," he says. "Whatever the accomplishments of the past, this position means I have to do more. I owe it to the people who haven't been selected and to those who seek to follow in my footsteps."

Johnson credits a supportive upbringing for his achievements. A fundamental principle he has lived by and recommends to other minorities is "to have hope and be prepared." He says that "those are the words of wisdom passed to me from the elders in my family--my grandparents and parents."

Hope has been a strong thread in Johnson's fabric. He wears his new role proudly, meanwhile shouldering what he sees as a profound duty to be a mentor to minority youngsters who may have their doubts about who and what they can grow to be.

"I hope that my appointment makes it clear to all that, given an opportunity, African Americans can be successful in the military at all levels," he says.

In his new role as rear admiral, Johnson is the senior medical advisor to the Commandant of the Marine Corps. The office has influence at the headquarters level over all health services for Marines and their families.

In addition to his new official duties, Johnson's continued involvement in the National Naval Officers Association allows him the opportunity to mentor other African American service members. The organization also awards scholarships and provides tutors to disadvantaged youth in the community.

"Opportunities do come along, but you have to be prepared," he affirms. "And luck is where opportunity and preparation intersect."

Persons (left) and Kimper: The ending was happy.


After reading the novel Patience and Sarah by Isabel Miller, Wende Persons '79W (MS) was inspired. "I read this book and just thought, what a cool story," she says. The novel, based on true events, is the story of two early 19th-century Connecticut women who fall in love and settle together on an upstate New York farm. Pretty much unprecedented for their time.

Similarly, Persons and Paula Kimper '79E were pioneers in their own right. The two women teamed up to write the libretto (Persons) and score (Kimper) for the first opera to depict an openly romantic relationship between two women.

The three-act Patience and Sarah, which Kimper identifies as a "folk opera," made its historic debut on July 8 at the Lincoln Center Festival '98. As a first effort, it was well received both by the opera elite (Opera News, for instance, had good things to say about its "smart, concise libretto" and "lyrical score") and by the gay and lesbian community.

Kimper and Persons have written of their work: "As lesbians we are proud to be creating what we believe is a popular and accessible theatrical work. It is a positive story, inspired by real-life early 19th-century lesbians. Patience and Sarah deals with the universal themes common to all relationships of shame and guilt, of passion and commitment, and of honesty with one's families."

Persons says she began writing the libretto in 1981 after a soprano friend spoke to her about her inability to identify with the roles she was singing on stage. "She never got to be who she really was and sing of her love for women," says Persons. "I thought about it and said to myself, wouldn't it be great to do this?" She got right to work, although it turned out to be slow going.

By 1989 she was looking around for a collaborator and called Kimper, a composer whom she had known from her years at the University. Kimper, who was working in theater and film, had never written an opera and her initial response was negative. "I didn't want to be pigeonholed as a lesbian composer," she says. And a first reading of the novel didn't immediately energize her musical instincts. The libretto went back into Persons' drawer for a few more years.

It was after Kimper attended a performance of The Ring Cycle at the Metropolitan Opera that she began to reconsider the idea and asked for a chance to read the story again. This time it took, and the two engaged the support of American Opera Projects, Inc., an organization that helps artists develop and present new works.

Meanwhile, Isabel Miller, the author of the original story, had become gravely ill, and the creators experienced some difficulty securing rights to the work. Miller liked the idea but was cautious at first. She was pleased with the libretto, she said, but wanted to hear the music. Kimper hadn't written any yet.

Time now being of the essence, Kimper and Persons proved their dedication to the project with the same brand of perseverance and patience pledged by their title characters. Miller, after hearing a tape of a few songs, granted them permission to work on the project but was short of granting them full rights.

Despite no assurances that Patience and Sarah would ever be performed publicly, composer and librettist forged ahead. Shortly before her death, however, Miller gave her blessing and affectionately signed over the rights.

The show went on. And unlike most operas, this time the ending was happy.

1954: Scott (center) with Carl Sandberg and Andre Kostelanetz, who had commissioned "A Lincoln Portrait"


If Howard Scott '41 were to write a tell-all book about the golden years of the recording industry, Chapter One would tell what it was like being part of the team that 50 years ago this year created the 33 1/3 r.p.m. long-playing record.

Because the LP, which could play for an unprecedented 20 minutes at a stretch, is what started it all.

Scott, who earned a B.A. in music and history, got his own start in the music business in 1946, when Columbia Records president Goddard Lieberson '35E brought him on as a trainee in Columbia's Masterworks department. Within a year, a Columbia team was developing a long-playing record. They needed someone literate in the classics who could help in transferring to new LP masters the music that had been recorded in four-minute, frequently overlapping, increments on the old 78's.

Together with the engineer on the team, Scott worked out the method used to put the fragments back together as a continuous work. Basically, it had to do with Scott snapping his fingers to identify--to the microsecond--each splice point as it came up while the music was playing. "I was a demon snapper," he recalls.

The moment of truth came about a year later, when, in Scott's words:

"On June 28 in Atlantic City, in front of all Columbia dealers and distributors, Paul Southard put down the pickup arm on the LP of Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite and started talking as the record played at a low level. I was in the front row cueing Southard when to turn up the sound so that all could be aware that it was an LP record which was being played. Some 18 minutes later, as the last chords of 'The Waltz of the Flowers' came up forte, the house broke into a cheering, applauding group. The real business of recording music had begun."

In the years that followed, the introduction of vinyl with its longer playing time and the birth of stereo allowed for a virtual explosion of the recording industry.

"It was an incredibly exciting time musically," Scott says.

During the 1950s, when he was recording director and senior producer for CRI Masterworks, Scott produced 75 to 100 albums a year for the Columbia, Harmony, and Epic labels. He later worked at, among others, MGM Records and RCA, where he won a Grammy as Album of the Year producer.

Along the way, Scott worked with the brightest stars in the American musical galaxy, "brilliant, gifted" people who "could think on their feet quicker than anyone."

1974: Scott with Benny Goodman (left) on the Eastman Theatre stage. Scott at the time was executive manager of the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra.

A sampling:

Aaron Copland: "He was a charming, witty, all-American composer, wholesomely simple."

Leonard Bernstein: "I used to come in and we'd have breakfast and then we'd go to record. In 1957, we were coming back from a recording session in Brooklyn in a cab. We chatted about our summer plans, and I told him I wanted to get my brothers-in-law together and invest in a unit in West Side Story, which he was involved in. Well, his previous show had flopped and he insisted he wouldn't let me take that risk. So I didn't. Of course, each unit invested in West Side Story wound up making $200,000."

Oscar Levant: "He refused to come into the studio one day because there was an umbrella open in the corner."

Dimitri Shostakovitch: "During one session, he sat by my side all day. He only spoke German and Russian. I only spoke English and bad French. He was a simple humanist with awesome talent."

On West Side Story, Bells Are Ringing, Kismet, My Fair Lady: "It was a wonderfully busy, interesting time. It was a lot of fun. It was a lot of work, but it was a lot of fun."

Scott is philosophical about the LP's relegation now to history. Its longer playing time ushered in an era of American music that fairly burst with creativity. But innovation begets innovation, and Scott sees the LP as a worthy precursor to the CD and whatever may follow. Still, he says, smaller companies are finding a niche in creating LPs for a strong cult following. There are those who believe the LP has a finer sound and may even last longer than the CD, he says.

As the greats such as Morton Gould and Erich Leinsdorf have passed on, Scott doesn't have the same attachment to the industry as he once did. These days he prefers the cadences of a good book to those of a recording, LP or otherwise.

"I don't listen to much music anymore. Been there, done that. I have too many bad comparisons to what I used to do. My wife hates to sit next to me in a concert because she says I sit there listening for wrong notes."

Contributed by Sally Parker, Helene Snihur, and Jan Waxman

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